Thursday, 12 February 2015

Dyfed-Powys Police - mental health: a multi-agency approach

Over the last few months I seem to have read endless articles online (the latest just last week from the BBC here) about the increasing numbers of young people and adults being detained in police cells whilst experiencing mental distress. This is often because there are no suitable places of safety where people can be taken to be assessed, even though it is frequently accepted that a police custody suite is not usually an appropriate place in such circumstances.

In Powys, a multi-agency approach is now working to improve the police response to those with mental health needs. I first found out about this in November 2013 at a Dyfed Powys Police event called Mental Health: the Way Forward. Here we heard, amongst other things, some of the Force’s plans for change in the area of detention under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act.

Inspector Brian Jones
This week we found out more, from Inspector Brian Jones of Neighbourhood Development for Dyfed-Powys Police, about how plans had been progressing since the event. Brian started by addressing the issue of children and adults being placed in police cells due to the lack of mental health beds.

“In Powys, we have not found ourselves in this position during 2014”. The police are often called to assist with situations where someone has expressed concern for a family member, a friend or someone they have seen behaving in a manner which raises concern for their welfare. The police currently have minimal training on how best to deal with incidents where people have mental health needs, but will strive to treat everyone with dignity and respect. “Our first priority is to ensure that persons are safe and then to ensure that persons are cared for by specially trained experts at an agreed place of safety.”


The legislation under the Mental Health Act, which is known as a Section 136, stipulates that “if a constable finds a person who appears to him/her to be suffering from mental disorder and to be in immediate need of care or control, in a place to which the public have access, the constable may, if he/she thinks it necessary, in the interest of that person or for the protection of other persons, remove that person to a place of safety.” No one will disagree that a police cell is not a suitable place or environment for someone with mental health needs. However, there are occasions when there is no other suitable alternative and this is when there are signs of violence, substance misuse or criminal offences for investigation with evidence to be preserved.

In order to make every effort to secure the correct and professional support for individuals, as well as avoiding police cells or any inappropriate use of police powers, a procedural pilot was introduced in Powys in March 2014. This pilot requires the Police’s Inspector’s authority before police mental health powers can be used. The Inspector will take an independent overview of the circumstances which have led to consideration being given to utilising the powers under the Mental Health Act.

Exceeding expectation

The pilot is exceeding expectation and the police cells have only been used on three occasions, which was justifiable in the circumstances and not due to having no suitable beds available. At no time have the police powers been inappropriately used and at no time during this period have any youths under the age of 18 been detained. There is a strong partnership approach between the police and health and social care partners, who are working together to raise awareness amongst colleagues, as it has been agreed that training is required for people who come into contact with people suffering from psychological problems.

Thank you to Inspector Brian Jones for his update. Let us know in the comments box below what you think about the new ways of working that the police are trialling in Powys - or elsewhere in the UK.

You can read a recently published report (6 February) from the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee on Policing & Mental Health here.

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